A smoothhound shark.
A smoothhound shark. Biodiversity Heritage Library/CC BY 2.0

The great white shark, which is capable of killing humans with a single bite, does not ordinarily prowl British waters. They, like surfers, prefer slightly warmer water. But other sharks do, including more than 40 different species, ranging from demon catsharks, which eat a lot of shrimp, to spiny dogfish, which can grow to over three feet in length and have very sharp teeth.

Then there are smoothhound sharks, one of which recently attacked a surfer, who the BBC identified as Rich Thomson, and left him with a bloodied hand and, perhaps, a new respect for the ocean. Thomson said he was surfing off Bantham when the shark first latched onto his thigh, which was protected by his wetsuit. Thomson then punched the animal, and cut his hand in the process. The smoothhound then swam away.

“I went home and told my wife I was late because I had been bitten by a shark,” Thomson told the BBC. “She said ‘I’ve heard that one before’, but it was true.”

The surf at Bantham.
The surf at Bantham. Barry Deakin/CC BY-SA 2.0

The attack appears to be the first ever documented in waters off England, though The Independent took a moment to chide “a number of media outlets” for reporting that it definitively was the first ever shark attack in English waters. An expert they spoke with said that fishermen handling sharks “commonly encounter small nips” while other attacks “maybe” happened but weren’t reported.

Listen: If you’re a fisherman and you catch a shark and that shark bites you, that isn’t a shark attack so much as an occupational hazard. And if you were bitten by a shark in the wild and you didn’t report it, well that would be rather surprising. Thomson, it’s fair to say, has earned his place in history (almost certainly as the first surfer bitten by a shark there), though he says it was mostly just an unfortunate accident.

“It won’t stop me going back in the water and it shouldn’t stop anyone,” Thomson told the BBC. “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”